Sara Van Den Bossche
Pairing diversity with children’s literature connotes an intricate maze of interconnecting notions, inside and outside of children’s books. It implies diversification among agents in the field’s circuits of production or evaluation. Alternatively, it foregrounds the depiction of diversity within actual texts for children, sometimes perceived as inadequate, for being unconstructive or white-centric, for instance (Kohl 1995; Nel 2017). It also encompasses observations concerning the limited supply of “diverse” books (Agosto et al. 2003), frequently motivated by a fairly narrow understanding of “diversity” as explicitly thematised intercultural encounters. Methodologically, a complicating factor is that preferences for theoretical constructs are informed by historical reality and vary across geographical areas (Wesseling 2017). Each interpretation of diversity requires a slightly different conceptual toolkit. Consequently, a single, clearly delineated theory of diversity is not a given.
Therefore, it could be fruitful to streamline the disparate yet overlapping approaches constituting diversity studies in children’s literature. After all, they are tied together by a common denominator: a focus on power dynamics and hierarchies between (groups of) characters in a fictional world. The paradigm I propose capitalises on their shared assumptions.
A constructive way to conflate the existing approaches, I argue, is to highlight readers’ options for responding to the power mechanisms governing the textual world. Drawing on feminist hermeneutics (Fetterley 1978), this paradigm emphasises readers’ work with texts. Its starting point is their ability to read resistingly (cf. Nel 2017; Kokkola 2013), specifically targeted at the textual rendition of group dynamics, power relations, and ensuing mechanisms of in/exclusion. It works towards a culturally conscious attitude, and eventually builds up towhat I term culturally critical literacy.
In this lecture, I expound on the conceptual framework underpinning the culturally critical paradigm and present the analytical toolkit it comprises. This toolkit uses as its main entry points into texts: 1) point of view (narrative perspective, focalisation, and discursive power), 2) object(s) of representation, and 3) views, images, and cognitive models informing and structuring representation (cf. Botelho & Kabakow Rudman 2009; O’Sullivan & Immel 2017).
Agosto, Denise E., Sandra Hughes-Hassell, & Catherine Gilmore-Clough, “The All-White World of Middle-School Genre Fiction: Surveying the Field for Multicultural Protagonists”, in: Children’s Literature in Education34(4), 2003, pp. 257-275.
Botelho, Maria José & Masha Kabakow Rudman, Critical Multicultural Analysis of Children’s Literature: Mirrors, Windows, and Doors,New York/London: Routledge, 2009.
Fetterley, Judith, The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction,Bloomington/London: Indiana University Press, 1978.
Kohl, Herbert R., “Should we Burn Babar? Questioning Power in Children’s Literature”, in:Should we Burn Babar? Essays on Children’s Literature and the Power of Stories, New York: The New Press, 1995, pp. 3-29.
Kokkola, Lydia, “Learning to Read Politically: Narratives of Hope and Narratives of Despair in ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, in: Cambridge Journal of Education 43(3), 2013, pp. 391-405.
Nel, Philip, Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and Why We Need Diverse Books,Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.
O’Sullivan, Emer, & Immel, Andrea, “Sameness and Difference in Children's Literature: An Introduction”, in: E. O’Sullivan, & A. Immel (eds), Imagining Sameness and Difference in Children's Literature: From the Enlightenment to the Present Day, Londen: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp. 1-25.
Wesseling, Lies, “Imagology and Children’s Literature: Beyond Intellectual Parochialism” (lecture), 30. Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Kinder- und Jugendliteraturforschung, 25-27 May 2017.